SFB 1187 ›Medien der Kooperation‹ an der Universität Siegen
Conference “Preparing for Patients. Learning the skills and values of healing encounters”
Friday, 29. - Sunday, 01 July 2018

How physicians and other healers conduct their encounters with clients is an  integral element of becoming healers. Nevertheless, this knowledge is only partly provided by official channels or courses; rather, it is often learned in a subtle and implicit  manner  during  practical   apprenticeship.   Despite   broad   investigations of the professional encounters between healers and  their  clients,  few  studies  have  addressed  the  question  how  exactly  these  skills  and  attitudes are  learned.

A main criticism of the patient-physician relationship in biomedical contexts has  long been its asymmetry (Pilnick und Dingwall 2011), and empirical studies have time and again reasserted fundamental disparities between those seeking and those providing health services (Begenau et al. 2010). At the same time, these asymmetries are constitutive of the healing encounter, because they form a functional difference between healer and client: without the attribution of special knowledge and skills to thehealingparty, thewholeencounterwouldbedispensable. Incontrasttobiomedical contexts, the encounter of non-biomedicalhealerswith their clients isoften conceived asbeinglesshierarchical. Yet, wewouldassumeasimilarfunctionaldifferencebetween them. We assume that how these asymmetries and differences are managed and performed in daily practice is largely learned in the formative years of apprenticeship.

Since the seminal studies “The Student Physician” (Merton et al. 1957) and “Boys in White” (Becker et al. 1961), there has been little in-depth research on how students of healing practices acquire such skills and how they are transmitted in learning contexts. These studies have shown how  novice  physicians  learn  to  cope  with  the contingencies of daily work and how they learn to balance responsibility and experience. Through fine-grained ethnographic fieldwork, the researchers were able to show how such skills and attitudes are learned in the processes of becoming a competent member, by observing and imitating role models and by being sensitive to the norms and values displayed by significant others. In line with Becker et al., we assumethatmostoftheseskillsarepartofthetacitlearninginthe“hiddencurriculum” (Hafferty and Franks 1994). The hidden curriculum refers to those aspects of learning contexts that do not figure prominently in official accounts, but are learned as part of becoming a member of a healing profession. Despite (or because of) their informal character, they serve as powerful orientations that slowly become taken for granted, in many cases without explicit recognition by those who teach and learn them.

In the course of the conference, we want to shed light on how apprentices of healing professions are preparing and are being prepared for their encounters with patients or clients. Irrespective of the given healing cosmology, all healing knowledge is ordered in specific systems, organized in rules, schemes, and procedures that need to be adapted to the individual healing encounter. Therefore, every healing encounter is laced with fundamental uncertainties – not only with respect to treatment but also to interaction (cf. Fox 1980; Henry 2006). And all healing apprentices learn how to cope with these contingencies. The subtle transmission of a “paternalistic” model of physician-patient interaction in biomedical education might account for the long-standing asymmetry that are part of the official program of medical education, despite longstanding calls for “shared decision making” and “informed consent” (Stollberg 2008) . Consequently, “professional dominance” (Freidson 1970) is a skill that needs to be learned before it can be practiced.

Thus, we want to compare and take a closer look at the subtle modes of how students of different healing  practices  –  biomedical  as  a  well  as  all  other  healing traditions – are prepared and how they prepare themselves for their encounters  with  patients.  We  want  to  ask  questions  along  the  following   lines:

  • Which attitudes are transmitted for coping with the tension between standard procedures and individual  cases?
  • Which roles do authority, performances of authority, competence, empathy, uncertainty, responsibility, and experience play?
  • What modes of teaching and learning the “hidden curriculum” can be observed?

We are looking for contributions from all academic disciplines, and we also encourage physicians and other health professionals to introduce their   perspectives.

Conference Language: English

Please send one-page proposals for contributions and a short CV (deadline: 31 January 2018) to:

Ehler Voss ehler.voss@uni-siegen.de

Cornelius Schubert cornelius.schubert@uni-siegen.de